Just finished a rough draft of a review of Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs – getting closer to caught up on reviews all the time. Or maybe it would feel that way if I hadn’t finished The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms over the weekend and read most of Sea Dragon Heir yesterday, but at least it is a lot easier to review books that have been read more recently. (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was excellent – my favorite book I’ve read this year to date and I’m really excited about the next one in the series.) Next up is a book I am looking forward to, A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire, and the next book I read after that probably depends on how close to caught up I am.

Yesterday I got one review copy in the mail.

Procession of the Dead by Darren Shan

Darren Shan is better known as a writer of YA fiction, particularly the Cirque Du Freak series (the first three books were recently made into the movie Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant). This one is an adult novel coming out on June 4, 2010 although it looks like it has been published before but was not easy to get a hold of in the United States. It is the first book in a series called The City. Since I hadn’t heard of this one before, here’s the blurb on it (I’ll probably start including these anyway for all books including the ones I purchase myself):

What had I done before coming to the city? I couldn’t remember. It sounded crazy but my past was a blank. I could recall every step since alighting from the train, but not a single one before.

Young, quick-witted and cocksure, Capac Raimi arrives in the City determined to make his mark in a world of sweet, sinister sin. He finds the City is a place of exotic dangers: a legendary assassin with snakes tattooed on his face who moves like smoke, blind Incan priests that no one seems to see, a kingpin who plays with puppets, and friends who mysteriously disappear as though they never existed. Then Capac crosses paths with The Cardinal, and his life changes forever.

The Cardinal is the City, and The City is The Cardinal. They are joined at the soul. Nothing moves on the streets, or below them, without the Cardinal’s knowledge. His rule is absolute.

When Capac discovers the extent of The Cardinal’s influence on his own life, he is faced with hard choices and his own soaring ambition. To find his way, Capac must know himself and what he is capable of. But how can you trust yourself when you can’t remember your past?

Miles Errant
by Lois McMaster Bujold
752pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.38/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.3/5

Miles Errant is an omnibus containing the novella “The Borders of Infinity” and the novels Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance in the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. Mirror Dance won the Hugo Award in 1995.

There are currently 13 novels in this space opera series (including the ones that are loosely related since one takes place 200 years before, two are prequels about Miles’s parents, and one does not feature Miles but a member of his crew instead) and 4 novellas with a new novel (Cryoburn) scheduled to come out later this year. Miles Errant is fourth in the omnibus edition order (after Cordelia’s Honor, Young Miles and Miles, Mystery and Mayhem). It is followed by one novel not in an omnibus (Memory) and two more collections, Miles in Love and Miles, Mutants and Microbes.

Even though the books were not all published in chronological order, I’d recommend starting with either the first prequel about Miles’s mother (Shards of Honor which can also be found in the omnibus Cordelia’s Honor) or the first book about Miles (The Warrior’s Apprentice which can be found in the omnibus Young Miles). The two books in Cordelia’s Honor are not really necessary to understanding the rest of the series, but I’m glad I started with them because I really enjoyed them. However, I would recommend those who are more interested in space opera adventure begin with The Warrior’s Apprentice since Shards of Honor is largely a love story.

The novella “Borders of Infinity” starts off this collection. Miles is dropped off in the Cetagandan prison camp Dagoola IV, where he is immediately beaten and stripped of his few belongings (including the clothes on his back) by some of the other prisoners. Soon he is approached by another naked man who would like to know if Miles is the One – or rather, the other One since the scripture he’s been carrying around says there are two Ones. Miles thinks perhaps he can use this religious fanaticism to his advantage in his mission – rescuing the heroic Colonel Tremont from the prison camp.

Brothers in Arms picks up after the events of “The Borders of Infinity.” In this novel Miles and his fleet end up on Earth shortly after the end of the previous story. While waiting for the funds necessary to repair one of the ships, Miles works at the Barrayaran embassy – to the great dismay of Captain Galeni, who has to deal with him and his Dendarii Fleet. However, after his requests for funding are ignored, Miles begins to wonder if there is some sort of conspiracy at play – and inadvertently discovers a plot against his home planet involving the clone he never knew he had.

Mirror Dance takes place about two years after the previous story but is very closely related since it is mostly about Mark, Miles’s clone. Mark pretends to be Admiral Naismith in order to free the clone children on Jackson’s Whole, who will eventually be replacement bodies for their progenitors. While he largely succeeds due to the intervention of Miles, who figured out what happened, the plan goes awry and has some rather dire consequences. Afterward, Mark ends up on Barrayar where he meets his family and must come to terms with who he is.

The series focuses of course on the title character, Miles Vorkosigan, a dwarf with very brittle bones due to a toxin his mother was exposed to before he was born. Growing up in a very military society, Miles has had to overcome the obstacles of both prejudice and his own physical limitations. Fortunately for Miles, what he lacks is more than made up for by the fact that he is brilliant. He’s hyper, has issues with obeying authority and is overall a very vibrant character – and is very entertaining to read about. It’s a fun series to read, and I do think there is some great character development and insight, particularly in Mirror Dance (which was not only my favorite in this collection but also my favorite in the series so far).

The three stories in this particular collection all tied together very well. “The Borders of Infinity” was a very light, fast-paced and fun story – at least until close to the end where it’s not as light. The way it ended was great, though, and it’s very rare that I really think a story has a strong conclusion. Brothers in Arms followed a similar pattern of going from light and fun to less so, but it didn’t take long for Mirror Dance to be on the darker side. Even when it’s not going well for the characters, the narrative contains enough humor to keep it from feeling as grim as it could, though.

For instance, right at the beginning of “The Borders of Infinity,” Miles is stripped naked and pretty thoroughly beaten by some other prisoners. Instead of focusing too much on the depressing circumstances, it is immediately followed up with Miles being approached by a fellow naked prisoner offering him a drink of water:

The man squatted in studied politeness until Miles finished drinking, then leaned forward on his knuckles in restrained urgency. “Are you the One?”

Miles blinked. “Am I the what?”

“The One. The other One, I should say. The scripture says there has to be two.”

“Uh,” Miles hesitated cautiously. “What exactly does the scripture say?”

The man’s right hand wrapped over his knobby left wrist, around which was tied a rag screwed into a sort of rope. He closed his eyes; his lips moved a moment, and then he recited aloud, “…but the pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them by the arms; also they had left their garments behind them, for though they went in with them, they came out without them.” His eyes popped back open to stare hopefully at Miles.

So, now we begin to see why this guy seems to be all by himself…. “Are you, perchance, the other One?” Miles shot at a venture.

The man nodded shyly.

“I see. Um…” How was it that he always attracted the nut cases? He licked the last drops of water from his lips. The fellow might have some screws loose, but he was certainly an improvement over the last lot, always presuming he didn’t have another personality or two of the homicidal loonie variety tucked away in his head. No, in that case, he’d be introducing himself as the Chosen Two, and not be looking for outside assistance. (pp. 5 – 6)

Even though Mirror Dance is more about Mark than Miles, it is still a very good story and also contains some good scenes with Miles. In spite of being his clone and sharing many of his traits, Mark is very different from Miles. This is definitely his book and he undergoes a lot of growth in it. It goes very well as a follow-up to Brothers in Arms, in which we first meet Mark but only see him from Miles’s perspective.

While I wouldn’t recommend starting with Miles Errant, I’d definitely recommend it to fans of the series who haven’t read it yet. For those who haven’t read the series, I’d recommend it to those who like adventures, strong characters and some well-written humorous narrative.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Reviews of other books in this series:

Yesterday I got one review copy in the mail. After finishing Bone Crossed (about 60 pages left), I was planning to read one of my review copies but I wasn’t sure which one until this one showed up.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

This fantasy debut novel is the first book in the Inheritance trilogy. I have been hearing very good things about it and have been especially excited about reading it ever since I read Ana’s review over at The Book Smugglers. It sounds like just the type of book I like so it was a great surprise to receive a copy yesterday. I am really looking forward to reading it. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms will be released on February 25.

Twilight of Avalon
by Anna Elliott
448pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 4/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.25/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.69/5

Twilight of Avalon, a debut novel by Anna Elliott, is the first book in the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, which tells the story of Trystan and Isolde with an Arthurian backstory. The second book in this historical fantasy series, Dark Moon of Avalon, will be released on May 11, 2010.

The story takes place in sixth century Great Britain and is partially based on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Isolde, the main character, is the daughter of Modred and Gwynefar, who left Arthur for his and Morgan’s son. At a young age, Isolde was married to Arthur’s heir Constantine and became High Queen of Britain.

At the beginning of this novel, King Constantine has just died. According to the men who bring the king’s corpse back, he was killed by enemy Saxons; however, Isolde had a vision of his death and knows that someone actually murdered him in his sleep. While she did not see the face of the one who stabbed the king, she believes it was part of a plot by Lord Marche to become High King in her husband’s place. There is only one Isolde trusts with this secret – Myrddin, whom she asks to deliver a message to Drustan to send aid so that the throne of Britain does not fall into a murderer’s hands. Meanwhile, the British kingdom is thrown into turmoil while the kings fight over who should take the place of the High King.

Twilight of Avalon was one of those books that didn’t really work for me. Toward the beginning, I was very interested when Myrddin said, “No man – or woman, either – is entirely villain or hero, except perhaps in the memories of those who remain.” He had been talking about Arthur and how shocked he would be by the exaggerated tales of his heroic feats that persisted after his death. I find this concept of how real events become myth very fascinating and was also intrigued since I was expecting it to deal with complex characters.

Perhaps I’m just spoiled because I have read books that use this theme that I found better (for instance, Jack Whyte’s Camulod Chronicles which dealt a lot with how the Arthurian legend could have developed out of mostly realistic events). Of course, this story was also less about Arthur and more about Isolde and what came after Arthur, so it may not be fair to judge it based on that. Maybe I was too distracted by the Arthurian elements that were woven into the story than I should have been since they are really only a small part of it. However, even aside from that, I found many parts of this book very boring. It seemed to take forever to get the point and I never really cared for any of the characters, even Isolde. I could admire Isolde for her compassion and inner strength, but in spite of that I never really connected with her or became very attached to her.

Also, the villain really did seem to have no redeemable qualities at all in spite of the fact that no man is supposed to be a villian or a hero according to Myrrdin. He is always very vile, especially horrible toward women and is never shown to have a single shred of decency. Unfortunately, I prefer to read about characters who do fit more with the view Myrrdin expressed and villains that seem purely evil do not normally appeal to me.

Toward the end of the book, it did begin to pick up a bit, but it took far too long to get going, especially considering it was not too difficult to see where it was going ahead of time. There were so many scenes with Isolde helping the sick that just did not seem that relevant. They showed she had compassion and wasn’t really the witch people thought she was, but I found most of them really hard to slog through. Honestly, this was one of those books I was relieved to be done with.

This was a fairly historical version of the Trystan/Isolde Arthurian setting – there were a few fantastic elements, such as the visions Isolde had, but most of it was non-magical and seemed as though it really could have happened. I do tend to like that sort of story, but since I have already read several Arthurian retellings that find everyday explanations for a lot of the myths that I felt were much better, this aspect of the novel fell short for me.

One part of the novel I did rather like was the presentation of the Isolde/Trystan relationship, which was not romantic. Since this is going to be a trilogy, I suspect it will end up that way, but even if it does, I think it’s a nice touch that Isolde didn’t automatically fall in melodramatic love with Trystan at first, second or third sight. Isolde is not pining over Trystan at all, and instead seems to feel friendship and respect for Trystan.

For the most part, Twilight of Avalon failed to engage me and was often outright dull. Even though Isolde was a respectable heroine, I just never really cared about her or any of the other characters – or found any of them particularly interesting to read about. The novel had a couple of good points in its favor and did improve toward the end, but I still do not find myself wanting to read the next book.

My Rating: 4/10

Where I got my reading copy: The author sent me a copy.

Read Chapter One

A few minutes ago I registered for the Book Blogger Convention/Book Expo America. Thank you to everyone who gave some input on BEA. I’m sure I would end up really regretting it if I did not go – especially after about the third time I heard about how much fun everyone was having at both events. I’m looking forward to meeting those of you who are also going!

With all I’ve been reading about the Book Blogger Convention and Book Expo America, I’ve been starting to seriously consider going to both of them. I’ve never actually been to a big convention like this, so I was wondering if anyone who went last year would be willing to share what they thought. Did it seem like an entertaining event that kept you busy or did you just have to wander from booth to booth? Did they seem friendly toward independent bloggers? Was it worth the expense of traveling and paying for a (holy expensive Batman) hotel room in New York City? Any other general thoughts?